Leandra, Front End Developer
May 27, 2019
Since its conception, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) defined how to make Web content more accessible to people with disabilities. These guidelines have changed over the years since its first release in 1999 (It’s been 20 years!) and will continue to improve and adapt with the rise of new emerging technologies.
Like everything in life, it is important to know how things started to know where they are going to. So here’s a brief look into WCAG’s history and where it is heading.
WCAG 1.0 - Published in 1999
There was a need to standardize how we thought about web accessibility. Itwas heavily focused on HTML; there were 14 guidelines with 65 associated checkpoints to be satisfied for conformance, and the way it was structured was notwithstanding time because it was heavily focused on specific technology. There were no success criterion and no levels of conformance.
WCAG 2.0 - Published in 2008
WCAG was restructured to be more future proof and technology agnostic. And it diverged from being more technique centered to being more guidelinecentric. The previous checkpoints were swapped out and restructured into guidelines.
In addition, four core principles, “Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust” (a.k.a “POUR” ) - were established. Under these four principles, general guidelines were created with testable success criteria. For us now, understanding these concepts provide us with a great, high-level perspective on accessibility.
A lot has changed in the past ten years: Technology has changed drastically, and with that, the rise of new accessibility barriers.
In 2018, the first refresh of WCAG finally happened (it took 10 years!). WCAG 2.1 was introduced the new official W3C recommendation for web accessibility and is backwards compatible with WCAG 2.0. This means all the high-level principles remain the same, and everything we do for WCAG 2.0 is applicable for WCAG 2.1.
The three additional areas of focus for WCAG 2.1 are:
Addressing mobile accessibility challenges, mostly to do with motor and dexterity disabilities.
Here’s the 17 new criteria:
It is important to note; there is one whole new guideline - 2.5 Input Modalities - that is introduced, with 6 new success criteria (four Level A, and two Level AAA). This guideline makes it easier for users to operate functionality through various inputs beyond the keyboard. There are several other input devices, that need to be supported concurrently. Users may switch between different inputs at different times, and this needs to be accounted for.
For all the other newly introduced success criterion, I highly recommend having a look at David Macdonald’s (@davidmacd) summary chart. See the quick guide here.
For more detailed information, here is the link to the quick reference from W3C, with only the WCAG 2.1 items filtered.
The big question: Is it required for compliance?
In Ontario, there have been no announcements on whether the AODA will be updated to refer to WCAG 2.1.The compliance requirements and deadlines are still January 1, 2021, where all public websites and web content posted after January 1, 2012, must meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA other than criteria 1.2.4 (live captions) and 1.2.5 (pre-recorded audio descriptions) .
However, it is suggested that we develop with WCAG 2.1 to maximize the future applicability of accessibility efforts, and to reach a broader audience – But we don’t need to wait for legislation; why not be ahead of the curve?
WCAG 2.1 Challenges
During development, there were significant challenges addressing criteria for cognitive, language, and learning disabilities. With a short timeline, these criteria were very difficult to ensure testability and implementation. As a result, WCAG possibly needs to be rethought and undergo a ground up restructuring to address these other criteria.
This diagram resembles a periodic table element cell; but instead uses accessibility terms W3C, A11Y, and Silver .
There is a new, long term effort to reconsider and redevelop WCAG. Its code-name is Silver , because it is expected to reflect a broader scope beyond web content, and so drops the “WC of WCAG, and leaves us with ”Accessibility Guidelines” or AG.
It just so happens that AG stands for Silver in the periodic table, so it is a very suiting nickname. It can be thought of as WCAG 3.0.
AG’s main purpose is to stray away from having guidelines that are web-focused and to a set of guidelines that can keep up with fast-changing technologies and be able to cover a more inclusive range of disabilities that were too difficult to test in previous WCAG versions. However, it is important to stress that the advice of WCAG is not going away, it is being restructured and rethought. AG will focus on restructuring the content, making it easier to search, reference and understand. With this, the documentation will ideally be a lot less intimidating, beginner friendly, and written in a plainer language.
For example, there may be the introduction of tags to allow for organizing the content in a more flexible way. Some of the proposed tags in the review process currently include but are not limited to: principles (perceive, operable, understandable, robust), technology used (web, mobile, VR, Home assistant), priority levels, interactions, context, and activity/project stage (design, development, content, etc).
In addition, the conformance levels A, AA, and AAA, may be removed entirely. There would be a new point and ranking system that will allow a more nuanced measurement of the product in terms of accessibility. For example, the conformance goals may be called, bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Where bronze is similar to the minimum WCAG AA conformance level, and increasing ranks include other factors such as usability testing, and/or inclusive design.
Currently, the Silver Community Group is presently in the prototype development and user testing stage for Silver. And it is expected in 2021 to be published as a recommendation . This group is open to the public, and I highly suggest - if you are interested - to join the Silver Community Group and contribute.